I Am Afraid Of My Dog!
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I have met and worked with a good number of dangerous dogs. I have also met owners who told me, “I’m afraid of my dog.” It’s one thing for a dog to be protective of themselves, their owners, and their territory. It’s quite another thing for a dog to be aggressive to the people in the home. Many times a dog that is aggressive towards its owner, with no apparent reason, is not medically well, and needs a thorough medical examination. In other cases, the dog isn’t being properly managed or trained. When that is the case, it is time to hire a professional behaviorist.
Aggression is a normal part of being a dog. There are many situations when it is Ok for a dog to bite. There are some cases where it is normal for a dog to bite someone in the family, such as if the dog is being abused by a family member. But, as a general rule, it is not normal for a dog to bite someone in the family. It is not normal to be saying, “I’m afraid of my dog.” In those cases, something is wrong with the dog, something is wrong with the dog’s training, or something is wrong with how the people are relating to the dog.
I have been around so many dogs for so many years, that I can sense when a dog is about to bite. I remember back around 1999, I was working with a Husky that had bitten the owner’s secretary in the lip when she bent down to pet him. The initial evaluation showed that the dog didn’t like being touched around the face and front paws, and if you did touch them there, he’d bite. It wasn’t more than a warning bite, a puncture wound, but not a full blown attack. When I started working with him, walking him on the leash for the first time, I sensed that he was about to bite me in the thigh. I stopped the lesson right there and got some safety equipment. When I started the lesson again, sure enough, he went for my leg. I would have gotten a painful bite if I hadn’t sensed he was about to strike. Most people, in my experience, haven’t developed their instincts to sense when a dog is about to bite. And I have yet to meet a child that could sense that a bite was imminent. I really can’t say how I developed this sense, though it has gotten better over the years as I have worked with so many biting dogs.
If you sense a dog is about to bite, then back off and get professional help. We have a tendency to overrule our basic instincts when dealing with dogs. People are especially stupid when it comes to dealing with dogs that arent their own. But, even in the home, you need to trust your instincts, and if it doesn’t feel right, hire a professional.
It’s becoming popular these days, with some veterinarians, behaviorists and trainers to claim that there is no such thing as pack order or dominance when it comes to the domestic dog. Lately, they are even claiming that there isn’t even a pack order or dominance in wolf packs. This is foolish, and such thinking, with the wrong dog, could get you killed. I know of a groomer I used to know who got a Neapolitan Mastiff pup. She raised it like all her other dogs over the years. When he got to be around a year old, he started getting very pushy and rude to her. For example, when he wanted her attention, he’d take his enormous paw and claw her leg, causing it to bleed. She worked with another trainer, who was a friend of hers. They used “cookies” (food and clickers) on the dog, yet the problem got worse. When the dog got about 2 years old, she asked the dog to move to another part of the room, so she could sweep up the hair. The dog didn’t move. She then firmly told him to move, and he lunged at her. She dodged him at the last second, he was growling, and coming after her again. She started grabbing the folding chairs around her and threw them after her, and he kept coming. She took a table and threw it at him. And a garbage can. She eventually backed him off. I know of another woman who got a Fila Brasiliero. She babied the dog. They are NOT pets, they are tough working guard dogs. The dog got more and more pushy with her. Eventually, this dog also came after her, and she had to flee into her bathroom and close the door. The dog beat on the door, trying to get inside after her. They had to find another home for the dog. I also know of a German bred working Doberman that was allowed to grow up without any training. The dog was also spoiled. They actually made a plate of food for the dog each meal, and let the dog eat off the kitchen table while they ate. One day, the dog was told to do something, and instead of complying, the dog bit the owner. They gave the dog up to a more experienced dog owner.
Pack leadership matters. Dogs need to be taught manners and obedience from the day they are brought home, and it needs to be properly maintained for the life of the dog. For many pet dogs, you’ll never see aggression in the home. But there are some dogs, which if babied and not properly led, will become dangerous and attack family members. It is important to learn to be a good and firm leader with a dog. And you need to teach your kids how to be leaders, too. And what signs to watch for.
There are a multitude of reasons why a dog might bite a family member that have nothing to do with pack leadership, such as illness or injury. I have met dogs that weren’t well that were very dangerous. I remember a Cocker Spaniel that had allergies so bad that pus would come out of it’s toenails. Only the wife could touch the dog, and even then only in certain ways. The vet couldn’t cure the dog, it was extremely dangerous, and eventually had to be put to death. Dogs can have adverse reactions to vaccinations, too. I have met a number of dogs that were abnormally aggressive because of a bad reaction to a vaccination. One was an 8 week old West Highland Terrier. The dog was never the same afterwards, and would growl when picked up. It died at 2 years of age.
What To Do?
If you are thinking or saying, “I’m afraid of my dog”, then it’s time to spend some money and get professional help. Sometimes these situations can be turned around, and sometimes they can’t. The first thing is to talk to a professional dog behaviorist. And NOT one who is just into clickers and treats. It is also wise to pay your veterinarian to give your dog a complete medical check up. I have come to the conclusion that probably 50% of all dog bites (and I’m not referring to cases where the dog was abused, nor am I referring to puppy mouthing / nipping) are the result of a combination of a medical and behavioral problem. Behaviorist and vet need to work together to help solve the problem.
Hi Sam. I did an internet search in hopes of finding a dog trainer who can help us. I’ll try to give you the brief version. We adopted Krista (GSD: German Shepherd Dog) from the pound almost a year ago. She is very sweet and gets along well with our cat. We decided to let her sleep in our bedroom on the floor and for awhile we had a problem with her pacing at night. That seems to have settled down a bit or we seem to be sleeping more through it now, I’m not sure which.
This is the current problem: Because we have the cat (who is declawed) we cannot let the cat have access to the doggie door. So in the mornings Krista is expected to go into the laundry room where she has food/water and a comforter which serves as a dog bed. She also has access to the doggie door and the fenced backyard. We live on an acre in Buckeye and I’d say about 2/3’s of our acre is fenced. Anyway, lately (and I’m not sure if it’s just since it has been dark in the mornings), she does not want to go into the laundry room in the mornings. We have had to forcibly pull her into the laundry room. Yesterday morning she snapped at my husband. We had a previous incident where my son had come to visit and he had gotten something to eat and sat down on the couch. Although Krista is never given people food and does not bother us while we are eating, she was intent on standing next to my son, sniffing and generally being a pest. She would not respond to verbal commands to stop, back off, etc. whatever we tried. My husband reached over to get her attention and unfortunately grabbed her ear. I’m sure this startled her and probably hurt, so she bit him on the hand. We were willing to forgive this bite as he was wrong to grab her ear. However, since she recently snapped at him when he tried to guide her into the laundry room by the collar, we really need to put a stop to this problem. I have taken to putting her on the leash to get her into the laundry room. I still have to pull on her to get her in there and I really don’t want to make a habit of this as I don’t want her to learn not to like the leash, but I am a bit afraid of being bit.
I’m not sure what the first step is, an evaluation perhaps? I know we live in the Buckeye area and it is very far. If you are not able to accommodate, can you perhaps recommend a trainer who serves the far west valley. We need to do something, I’m just not sure what at this point.
Thank you for your time.
Is she afraid of going into the laundry room?
I don’t fear the bites you have experienced, since these were a result of handler errors instead of a dangerous dog, and can be completely prevented by not doing the same things again. But, things are going wrong, and they need to be sorted out.
It is clear you need to complete basic obedience with this dog. Too much force, too little working together.
I don’t think she is afraid of the laundry room, I think she just wants to be with us. When it is time to go to bed at night it’s “come on Krista” and she goes right along, but in the morning when it is time to go out, you can “come on Krista” until you are blue in the face and she won’t come. Thus the force. So perhaps it is a separation anxiety issue? And I agree that we are not handling her correctly. Perhaps basic obedience is a good start. I forgot to mention we think she is about five years old. I’m sure we need training more than she does and I know our ultimate goal is for all of us to live together and all of us be happy.
Thank you again for your time.
Sally and her husband met me at a local park and we did a single lesson to deal with the immediate problems they were having with their dog.
Hi Sam, just wanted to give you a quick Krista update. Although my husband and I haven’t practiced everything you taught us, Krista is doing really well!! As of the end of last week, she was going willingly into the laundry room. I was concerned about this morning since the long weekend (Sat-Tues). But happily she trotted right in. She got lots of good girls and snuggles. So far so good in our household!
Thank you Sam!! Without your guidance we would probably still be at the battle of the wills, and the world without confrontation is so much better!! I trust that given enough time, John and I can be trained and teach Krista the things we want her to know.
That is EXCELLENT news. And when stuff like this sorts out, then it makes it all that much easier to sort other things out, and to start enjoying your dog more. Good for you. Good for sticking with the homework and being patient with it.
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.
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